I've written before about my enthusiasm for the work of Andrew Taylor. The appearance of another historical mystery from Andrew, The Anatomy of Ghosts, is therefore a real treat. Bleeding Heart Square was one of my favourite crime novels of 2008, and while that book was set in the 1930s, here he writes with equal assurance about murky events in a Cambridge college in the late 18th century.
Taylor's fictional Jerusalem College is splendidly and atmospherically evoked. A map is provided at the start of the book, and it turns out that the layout of the college buildings and grounds is relevant to the unravelling of the mystery. I do like maps in books, and I'm actively thinking of trying to draw one for my next book. Only snag is, I'm not at all artistic...
The book opens in dramatic fashion, with the proceedings of the Holy Ghost Club, a secretive and sinister group based at Jerusalem, and a shocking initiation ritual ends in tragedy and death. Attention then switches to the misadventures of John Holdsworth, who suffers terrible double bereavement when first his young son drowns and then his wife commits suicide. Angered by the fact that his wife had been exploited due to her belief that her son's ghost was seeking to make contact with her, Holdsworth writes The Anatomy of Ghosts, debunking ideas about the spirit world, and comes to the attention of a wealthy woman who dispatches him to Jerusalem College to assess the state of mind of a student who was traumatised by events at the last meeting of the Holy Ghost Club.
The first half of the book is sedate, far removed from the quickfire style of many modern serial killer thriller, but is none the worse for that. Taylor establishes character and setting with equal care, and the period detail is very well done. In the latter stages of the story, the pace quickens and a number of plot threads are pulled together with the dexterity that we have come to expect of this highly accomplished author.